Tag Archives: Zai Yu

Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius on wisdom and goodness

Confucius on wisdom and goodness

Do wisdom (仁/rén) and goodness (知/zhī) go hand in hand? Although Confucius doesn’t give an explicit answer to this question in Book 6 of the Analects, he does show that there is a very close link between them.

When the follower Fan Chi asks Confucius about these two subjects in 6.22, Confucius tells him that wisdom means doing “what is right for the common people” and that goodness requires being “first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius on wisdom and goodness

Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 5 by numbers

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than talk directly about the key values and principles of his teachings, Confucius focuses his attention on evaluating how well a dozen of his followers, four of his contemporaries, and eleven figures from the past live up to them.

Among his followers, Confucius only considers Yan Hui to be up to snuff. Indeed, in 5.9 Confucius admits that even he is not the equal of his protégé. 

Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a trick question

trick question

Zai Yu asked: “If a good person was told that someone lies at the bottom of a well, should they jump in after them?” Confucius said: “Why should they? A leader may be enticed down the wrong path but not into a trap; they can be deceived, but not made a fool of.”

There’s no need to put someone on the spot with a trick question. The aim of any conversation or meeting you hold should be to generate a positive discussion – not to show how clever you are. The more you put other people down, the more you’ll stifle the sharing of different perspectives and ideas. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a trick question

Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done

what's done is done

Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar pole of the land god. Zai Yu replied: “The Xia used pine; the Yin used cypress; the Zhou used chestnut. It’s said that they wanted it to make people tremble with fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “What’s done is done; no need to dredge up the past; let bygones be bygones.” (1) (2)

When someone does something dumb like Zai Yu here, it’s best to move on and forget that it ever happened. What’s done is done. There’s no point in upsetting yourself by bringing up the past. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done

Three years of mourning

Zai Yu asked: “Three years of mourning for your parents: this is a long time. If a leader doesn’t practice the rites for three years, the rites are sure to decay; if he doesn’t practice music for three years, music is sure to collapse. As the grain from last year’s crop is used up, grain from this year’s crop ripens, and the flint for lighting the fires is changed with each season. One year of mourning is surely enough.” Confucius said: “Would you be comfortable eating your fine food and wearing your fine clothes then?” “Absolutely.” “In that case, go ahead! When a leader is in mourning fine food is tasteless to him, music offers him no pleasure, and the comforts of home give him no peace, so he prefers to do without these pleasures. But if you think you will be able to enjoy them, go ahead.” Zai Yu left. Confucius said: “Zai Yu has no goodness! During the first three years after a child is born, he doesn’t leave the arms of his parents. Three years of mourning is a custom that is followed throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Yu receive three years of love from his parents?”

The three-year mourning period after the death of a parent was a tradition from the Zhou Dynasty, though it must have been honored significantly more in breach rather than in practice. Even sons from the richest and most powerful of families would have found it extremely difficult to take so much time out of their official, military, or family responsibilities – unless of course they wanted to establish a reputation as a beacon of morality or needed to spend some time in the background to cook up some nefarious scheme to further their interests. Continue reading Three years of mourning